Lula cleared to run again: what that means for Brazil’s future

On March 8, former Brazilian presidential candidate Fernando Haddad was at home, working on research, when he received a call from an aide of former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da […] The post Lula cleared to run again: what that means for Brazil’s future appeared first on Latin America News Dispatch.

Lula cleared to run again: what that means for Brazil’s future

On March 8, former Brazilian presidential candidate Fernando Haddad was at home, working on research, when he received a call from an aide of former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva. The call brought important news: the criminal convictions against Haddad’s friend and political ally, Lula, had been vacated.

That morning, Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin had overturned two convictions against the former president for money laundering and corruption, restoring his political rights and allowing him to run in the 2022 presidential election. The news was received with great relief by supporters, with disgust by the opposition, and as a political bomb throughout society. The presidential race for 2022 had started.

Lula, who was president of Brazil between 2003 and 2011, spent 580 days behind bars after the 2018 conviction. pending the conclusion of an appeal, but his conviction made it illegal for him to participate in politics. But now that his record is clear, Lula will run in the next election as a candidate for the PT, according to an interview with Haddad.

Fernando Haddad. Photo: Richard Stuckert.

Lula served two terms as president, leading the country during a historic period of growth fueled by high commodity prices, as well as a reduction of poverty and social inequality. The former president, who is now 75 years old, left office in 2011 because of consecutive term limits, and had planned to run again in the 2018 presidential elections, with Fernando Haddad as a vice presidential candidate. However, his 2018 conviction excluded him from seeking public office. 

“The last elections were not free elections, they were manipulated in ways that influenced the result,” said Haddad. 

Haddad is referring to the , who presided over Lula’s trial. The prosecution of the former president was part of the “Operation Lava-Jato,” investigation which also targeted many other politicians involved in corruption. Mr. Moro is now facing prosecution himself for acting with partiality on the Lula case. published by journalist Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept Brasil showed that Moro had close contact with the prosecutors of the case which was both unconstitutional and favored the conviction of Lula. 

Judge Fachin’s March 8 decision to vacate Lula’s convictions was based on another issue in the case. The Supreme Court justice found that the former president should not have been tried in the city of Curitiba, in southern Brazil, as the Federal Court there could only preside over cases related to Brazil’s national petroleum company Petrobras. However, it should be remembered that the annulment does not exempt Lula from the accusations. The ex-president will be tried again, but now by the Federal District Court in Brasilia. 

The involvement of PT politicians in corruption,, also of the Workers’ Party, and Lula’s arrest created political chaos in Brazil. Bolsonaro took advantage of Brazilians’ fear and anger in his 2018 election campaign. By spreading hate and fear against the Workers’ Party and claiming that all other politicians were corrupt, the far-right former army captain was able to secure a victory.

Thomas Traumann, a journalist and former spokesman for the President Rousseff’s government, told LAND that he expects Bolsonaro will use the same strategy to achieve re-election in 2022. 

“He will try to get the votes of people who aren’t voting for the PT and Lula,” he said. 

after Fachin’s decision, Lula has already shown that he seeks to lead the political opposition to Bolsonaro. In the speech, Lula strongly criticized the current president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “Don’t follow any stupid decisions by the president of the republic and the Ministry of Health, get a vaccine. Get the vaccine, because the vaccine is one of the things that free you from COVID…Next week, I will get my vaccine, I don’t care from which country it is, I don’t care if it is one or two shots, I will get my vaccine, and I want to advertise it to the Brazilian people.”

Photo: Carolina Antunes/PR.

Haddad believes that the current unpopularity of Bolsonaro is greater than that of the Workers’ Party and Lula. Referring to centrist politicians who supported Bolsonaro in 2018, and basically won him the election, he said, “I believe that the shame these forces will feel for supporting Bolsonaro must be much greater now, given how much of a  disaster his government has been, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Brazil is nearing 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 and is currently going through its worst moment in the pandemic. Vaccination is proceeding at a slow pace due to low stocks. This week, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello became the third health minister to resign or be fired since the pandemic started.

On Wednesday, March 18, former President Lula gave an and suggested U.S. President Joe Biden call a G20 meeting to ensure vaccine equity. 

“The responsibility of international leaders is tremendous, so I’m asking President Biden to do that because I can’t… I don’t believe in my government,” da Silva said “And so, I couldn’t ask for that of Trump, but Biden is a breath for democracy in the world.”

By saying that, former President Lula is signaling that his foreign policy would also be different than that of Bolsonaro. The current president idolizes Trump and did not recognize Biden’s victory in the 2020 U.S. presidential election until the recount of all votes. 

Gleisi Hoffmann, a congresswoman and president of the Workers’ Party, says that Lula is a diplomatic leader and very respected by political figures all over the world. 

“His statement on the and on the vaccine situation will find  support,” she told LAND. “He has been making contact with world leaders to help solve Brazil’s problems, especially when it comes to immunization. I have no doubt that he is already helping a lot.” 

Traumann, the journalist, pointed out that Lula’s entrance into the presidential race is a turning point. A month ago, Bolsonaro was playing alone. Even though his popularity has dropped, there was no candidate who could prove themself as the anti-Bolsonaro. 

“In assuming this position, the ex-president seeks to get the votes of those who would never vote, under any circumstance, for the current president,” Traumann said.

Bolsonaro seems to be apprehensive, at least. After Lula’s speech and results of indicating that the former president could defeat him in a possible runoff in 2022, the president made an appearance at an event and defended the vaccine, as well as forgoing the promotion of chloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, against COVID-19 with drugs like chloroquine that have not been proven effective. The current president also declared a political war against the São Paulo Governor João Doria, a likely 2022 presidential candidate, who was the first politician to buy the CoronaVac jab from the Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac. In October, Bolsonaro scorned Sinovac on his weekly Facebook live video, saying, “no one will take your Chinese vaccine.”

Bolosonaro has promoted chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil.

Traumann predicts that Bolsonaro will “give nods of rationality,” such as walking back his anti-vaccine rhetoric, but at the same time he will intensify his discourse against the Workers’ Party and hold on to his radical views.

However, the current president’s loyal base of supporters seems to be unwilling to make these “nods of rationality.” This past Sunday, March 14, thousands of people went to the streets of several Brazilian cities protesting against the annulment of Lula’s convictions, against restrictive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 and in favor of the president. Protesters condemned Lula with vile language and . A businessman, from the state of São Paulo, , threatening the former president. 

Even though Lula has not formally announced his candidacy, and the official start of the campaign is still far away, Brazilian society is already divided between Lula and Bolsonaro. However, there is a large portion of the population that does not want to be in that position of polarization. 

For Traumann, the relevance of the Brazilian political center is the “million dollar question.”

“We know that there is a very large number of people who want neither Bolsonaro nor the Workers’ Party in power, but it is not yet known how big this group is, because until last week, before it was possible Lula could be a candidate, the PT was one more party among many,” he said. “So we will only know the answer to that question when a name appears for the center to get behind. However, if the center parties don’t get together and agree on one name, they won’t get anywhere.”

Rodrigo Maia, former president of the House of Representatives and a member of the centrist Democratas party, argues that at this moment the center parties need to understand the characteristics of the voters that want neither Bolsonaro nor Lula. 

In an interview with LAND, Maia said that one possible candidate the center parties could get behind is Luiz Henrique Mandetta, the first health minister in Bolsonaro’s government.

“I think there are at least four names that have political relevance for the center parties, one of them is Mandetta, who has a lot of support because of the health area,” he told LAND.

Mandetta was fired early on in the pandemic because of differences with Bolsonaro over measures to contain the virus. 

If Bolsonaro and Lula go to the 2022 runoffs, Maia thinks the center political parties will split between the two candidates. 

“In my opinion, four center parties will go against Bolsonaro on an eventual runoff with Lula,” he said. 

Maia supported Bolsonaro in 2018, but now opposes the president. On March 8, Maia even complimented Lula in a tweet. 

“One founded a party and ran in four elections; the other one is an accident in history,” he wrote, referring respectively to Lula and Bolsonaro. 

There’s a concern that history will be repeated in 2022. In the 2018 elections, people opposed to Bolsonaro were split between candidates, and in the second round, the centrist political parties did not declare support to Haddad, allowing a victory to the far-right Bolsonaro. 

Gleisi Hoffmann, the PT president, will travel around Brazil with Haddad and Lula as soon as the former president gets his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The purpose of the trip is to make allies, not only in politics, but also in social and artistic fields. 

“We want to talk to everyone that stands in opposition to the current president,” said Hoffmann.

The election for president of the Chamber of Deputies, in February, allowed the PT to reconnect with parties outside the left camp. The Workers’ Party decided to support the candidate from the centrist party Brazilian Democrat Movement (MDB), who was opposed to the candidate supported by Bolsonaro. 

The PT and the MDB have been bitter rivals since 2016, when former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a process led by then-Vice President Michel Temer and Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha, both members of the MDB. But that resentment was put aside in favor of defeating the candidate supported by Bolsonaro. 

“Differences will continue to exist with these parties, but at that moment something stronger brought us together,” Hoffmann said. “We wanted to prevent Bolsonaro’s candidate from winning. We wanted someone who would stand for Democracy and respect minorities. I believe that it is possible to make this coalition for 2022, but it has to be done based on proposals, on top of what we want for Brazil from now on. We need to understand what unites us in this journey.”

Bruna Lima is an intern at the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, covering freedom of expression and violence against journalists in Brazil, and a freelance reporter based in Rio de Janeiro.

She tweets at @blimag_.

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Venezuelan refugees in Colombia organize to streamline international aid

As a line of over 50 families waits alongside the multicolored fence of San Mateo park in the Soacha neighborhood of Bogotá, Maryluis Ruiz is undisturbed by the growing buzz […] The post Venezuelan refugees in Colombia organize to streamline international aid appeared first on Latin America News Dispatch.

Venezuelan refugees in Colombia organize to streamline international aid

As a line of over 50 families waits alongside the multicolored fence of San Mateo park in the Soacha neighborhood of Bogotá, Maryluis Ruiz is undisturbed by the growing buzz of anticipation. Instead, she diligently reviews her clipboard and calls out the names and ID numbers of those waiting to receive a food package from a local foundation.

Since arriving in Colombia from Venezuela three years ago, the 36-year-old mother of two has developed her role as social leader amongst the displaced Venezuelan community in one of the poorest areas of the nation’s capital, Bogotá.

Since 2014, over 5 million Venezuelans have left their country due to the worst economic crisis in its history, a crisis in which food shortages, power cuts and a lack of medicine have become commonplace across the country. 

Over half of the 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees who have settled in Colombia do not have formal status, according to Colombian immigration authorities. That prevents them from accessing essential services or seeking formal employment, forcing international organizations to step in to fill the gap. Due to the highly unregulated nature of the displacement, it has been challenging for the international organizations to attend to the ever growing population of migrants. Social leaders like Maryluis have stepped in to provide an essential link between the communities and those providing aid in the region.

Maryluis speaks with the leader of a local foundation ahead of a food distribution event in Soacha. Photo: Tom Mullett.

Having immediately recognized the lack of organization within her neighborhood as well as the absence of any reliable communication between the community and aid organizations operating in the area, Maryluis took it upon herself to try and improve conditions for her fellow migrants.

“I got to know many organizations because I liked to take walks and drop by distribution points   and listen to whatever workshop that they were offering,” she said. “I went out, knocked on doors and said, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ because this is good for us in terms of helping us academically and culturally. They [international organizations] tell us where to go if we have a problem with the police or if there is an aggression against a woman or a child.”

It wasn’t long before Maryluis had established a network within the local community, helping dozens of families receive regular attention from international organizations such as Plan International, Save The Children and the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“Now I’m officially recognized as a leader for my neighborhood,” she said. “I’m part of a project called ‘Leaders’ run by the IOM. I go out and speak with those who arrive from Venezuela, establish whether or not they have children; if they are living in the street; whether or not they have a job, and then I share that information with the IOM.” 

In a context of widespread xenophobia against Venezuelans and insecurity for activists, Maryluis’ role as social leader brings with it a number of daily challenges. Despite their urgent lack of resources, members of the community are often reluctant to seek help due to concerns for their personal wellbeing.

“Sometimes I have to bring them [Venezuelan migrants] directly to the aid organizations and spend the day with them,” Maryluis said. “There are many that don’t want to go [to receive aid] due to fear or shame. They worry they’re not going to be treated well or will be rejected just for being Venezuelan.” 

Norby Martínez, a resident of the same neighborhood as Maryluis, left Venezuela with her 3 severely malnourished children in 2016 and shares a similar story with regard to the treatment that her family has endured since relocating to Colombia.

“We’re always discriminated against,she said.My daughter lives in fear. She doesn’t like to go out alone. She’s 16 years old but won’t go to the shop unless she’s accompanied by someone. Just for being Venezuelan and for being a girl.

The mass influx of migrants in Colombia has largely been met with hostility. Many Colombians attribute increased levels of crime and unemployment to the arrival of their new Venezuelan neighbors. 

According to a January 2021 poll by Invamer, 67% of Colombians felt negatively about the prospect of Venezuelans remaining in the country, and 72% believed the border to Venezuela should be closed to prevent further access to migrants.

Sandra, a Community Manager for the IOM who asked to be identified only by her first name, is all too aware of the difficulties that Venezuelans face, making the connection with Maryluis all the more important.

Maryluis and other social leaders receive their formal induction kits at the IOM attention centre in Soacha. Photo courtesy of Maryluis Ruiz.

Due to the xenophobia, Colombians don’t trust Venezuelans and won’t employ them, she said. They’re constantly scared that they [Venezuelans] are going to steal from them. It’s incredibly useful to have contacts within the community. In the case of Maryluis, it’s the person that organizes the people in her neighbourhood for workshops and presentations as she understands the needs of individuals and families.” 

Entities like the IOM offer a lifeline across South America for Venezuelan migrants, providing basic aid and medical attention, in line with long term projects and workshops to help to improve integration. However, Maryluis believes that their presence adds to the bitterness and misinformation linked to the presence of Venezuelans in Colombia.

“The international organizations help us Venezuelans a lot, but sometimes the Colombians think that these organizations are from Colombia and that we’re taking away resources or help that they also need,” she said. “It’s not only Venezuelans that have a difficult life here.”

While notably deflated by the issue of xenophobia, Maryluis is also open to recognize that the negative perception of Venezuelan migrants has been fed by some who have in fact committed crimes.

“Some Venezuelans have come here and have done bad things,” she said. “So what happens? Everyone thinks all Venezuelans are bad, that all Venezuelans do bad things. It’s something I have to go out and say everyday, that we’re not all the same and that there’s a huge difference between them and those of us that came to work.”

The issue of security in Colombia’s capital was raised once again last week following the death of a police officer in the north of Bogotá as he attempted to prevent an armed robbery. Another incident took place the following day as two armed men attempted to steal a car in the south east of the city. Both crimes were blamed on Venezuelans, which sparked a fierce backlash on social media as well as comments from Bogotá Mayor Claudia López. 

“Everything is offered to Venezuelans, the same guarantees as all Colombians have,” the mayor said for the young officer. “We have some very violent acts from Venezuelan migrants. First they murder, then they steal.” 

Mayor López, who recently called upon the government to increase police numbers in the capital, has never shied away from the topic of migration and had previously caused controversy last year when she made comments about the actions of Venezuelans in Bogotá.

“I don’t want to stigmatize Venezuelans, but there are some migrants involved in criminal activity that have us living difficult lives,“ . “Here, to those who come to earn a living decently, welcome; but to those who come to commit crime, we should deport them without contemplation.” 

With strong opinions and feelings of insecurity rife throughout the population, a number of organizations have attempted to combat the negative perception as well as preparing Venezuelans for any xenophobia they might encounter in Colombia. The UN Refugee Agency, (UNHCR) via its campaign “Somos Panas Colombia,” recently released the “Kit Para Valientes,” a single-page PDF that covers likely sources of xenophobia and when it might occur, backed up by tips to help individuals deal with the problem, including when directly confronted by a Colombian.

Alongside her efforts to connect migrants with the international organizations, Marlyluis works tirelessly within her community to change some of the cultural and social habits that she feels work against the Venezuelan population in the eyes of their Colombian hosts. 

“It’s not like we can say ‘Ah, I’m in my country, I’ll do what I want,’” she said. “No! The character of us Venezuelans is that we get worked up quickly, so I tell them you need to be calm, listen and be more tolerant. We’ve adapted our dialect and tried to adopt elements of the culture; to be extra respectful and say ‘good morning,’ even if they don’t respond to us.”

In February of this year, Colombia President Iván Duque announced that his government would initiate a program of “Regularization,” offering 10 years of protected status to undocumented Venezuelan migrants who arrived in the country before January 2021. The announcement, which surprised many who have paid attention to the president’s previous comments regarding Venezeulans, drew international praise, including from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who heralded the decision as an extraordinary display of humanity, commitment to human rights and pragmatism.”

While popular opinion among Colombian voters may not be on their side, the President’s announcement to formalize the status of Venezuelan migrants has brought a palpable sense of hope to Maryluis and those around her.

“I feel extremely grateful,” she said. “This will give us a little bit more protection, allow us to work and access medicine, because right now if we get sick and don’t have money, It’s complicated. We have to turn to nature, to homemade remedies. But yes, it’s great news that they’re going to give the opportunity to those of us who come here to work. I have a lot of hope.”

Based on a recent report by the Organization of American States (OAS), the total number of Venezuelans to have left their country during the crisis could exceed 7 million by the end of 2021. During the announcement of the “Regularization” initiative, President Duque called for other governments to “follow by example”; however, it’s unclear how far this call will go to inspire action outside of Colombia. 

For Maryluis and her fellow Venezuelans, the uncertainty persists because it’s difficult to see how the government’s initiative will be applied in an environment where tension and mistrust is increasing every week. In the meantime, Maryluis refuses to be intimated and remains determined to continue helping those around her. 

“I don’t think about stopping; I know my god will protect me,” she said. “I have many friends that help me and encourage me to continue. I’ve spoken with the people around me. We’re going to stick together.”

Tom Mullett is a freelance journalist based in Bogotá, Colombia. 


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